Change is inevitable. While this can be unfortunate in some cases (as I detest change for change’s sake alone), it’s an inescapable fact. Nowhere is this more evident than in the world of technology, which has seen such rapid acceleration of development over the past two decades that what we have in the palm of our hands today would seem like alien technology to the good folks of 1995.
I am now considering just how many of you reading this won’t be old enough to remember the year 1995.
Now, I am contemplating the number of you who weren’t even BORN in 1995 and I would like to cry a bit about it if that’s alright.
As part of technology (indeed, one of my favourite parts), gaming has seen an equally incredible development. But what was once an arms race of colours, bits and polygons is quickly becoming one of two things: a pissing contest over tiny differences or failings, or seeing who can jump on the latest bandwagon the quickest. I find myself asking: what’s next for gaming?
I’m not going to go into massive depth about how gaming has changed over the decades. We’ve all read about things like the Nintendo Virtual Boy and the Atari Jaguar. What’s much more relevant (and a good deal more recent) are things like the Nintendo Wii. Unlike the two PlayStations, the N64 and GameCube and the Xbox before it, this console wasn’t about improving on what was already there. Unashamedly strutting its stuff as basically two GameCubes duct taped together, its main draw was the Wii Remote and its movement based controls.
People, predictably, went apeshit. The Wii sold millions, bringing Nintendo firmly back into the limelight. Whereas before it was seen by some as the last of the old guard; a third wheel to tide over those who enjoyed “kids games” (as opposed to the more young-adult and adult gamer on the PlayStation or Xbox platforms), now it was something to be reckoned with. It didn’t matter that it ended up being a gimmick that added very little to most games and actively detracted from others: it was new and shiny and no-one else was doing it. That was enough to make it popular.
We’ve seen this sort of stuff time and time again. Not just with gaming, either. Look at the massive failure that 3D has been in cinemas. In most cases, I hate to say “I told you so”, but I will make an exception here. I saw one film in 3D – one that was recommended as having the 3D actually add to the experience – and was thoroughly underwhelmed. At no point was it anything less than a gimmick. I didn’t feel “drawn in” or more immersed. If anything, the effect was jarring. I’m not one of those people who 3D doesn’t work on; it works just fine, but my brain knows when it’s being tricked and calls bullshit straight away. I’m no longer watching the movie: I’m thinking about how I’m watching the movie.
As a company, no-one is more guilty of this gimmicky bullshit than Nintendo. They can be forgiven simply because they are the only ones left actually trying to innovate as opposed to capitulate. While they can be stubborn in some arenas (such as online multiplayer, seriously what the fuck guys), they use that same trait to never give up hope. Almost everything they’ve pioneered has been aped in some fashion by Microsoft and Sony later down the line. Kinect and PlayStation Move were both radically different attempts to jump on the motion control bandwagon. While Sony realised its mistake relatively early on, it took nigh-universal revolt from their customer base to make Microsoft realise that nobody likes the Kinect. They like it even less when it’s made a mandatory purchase and less still when you have to have it connected to your console for it to even work. I’ve not forgotten the lies and utter disdain that asshole Don Mattrick spewed a couple of years ago, oh no.
You could even argue that the DS was the early forebear of this new craze of companion device interactivity. Let’s not forget that before Remote Play came to the PSVita and PS4, the same functionality (albeit much more restricted and laggy) was available on the PS3 and PSP. Sony even added 3D support to the PS3 and PS4, though the latter is curiously bereft of any titles that utilise the feature. Microsoft-side nowadays, there’s also Xbox Smartglass (I think… it’s still around, right? People use it, right guys?) and, more recently, the announced interconnectivity of Windows 10 and the Xbone.
The common denominator seems to be that Nintendo lead the charge, sometimes (often) failing miserably and letting its competitors come up with more technically-advanced, but likely just as unsuccessful, alternatives. Lately, however, this has not been the case.
Nintendo’s latest offering – amiibo – was definitely inspired by the Skylanders and Disney Infinity craze that came a year or so beforehand. Smartly realising that people would pay stupid amounts of money for Nintendo characters that they could use in their games, amiibo will be a constant source of money for Nintendo in a way that even Disney probably couldn’t hope to match. There’s also been a push for more interaction with mobile devices of late, since people are “gaming” on their phones a lot more nowadays. You’ll note the quotes there, since mobile gaming is redeemed only by the scant few titles on Android or iOS that are worth a damn, the rest being money-grabbing, time-sinking, pieces of crap or all of the above.
This begs the question of how Sony and Microsoft intend to follow suit. Both have adapted very similar strategies, with the homogenisation of their console infrastructure. Both are very similar to PCs in terms of architecture and programming, with the Xbone supposedly running Windows 10 when it comes out. Both are offering free games if you subscribe to their premium multiplayer service. But neither yet have something like amiibo on offer. This is more than likely due to a lack of iconic characters compared to the wealth that Nintendo has, but this doesn’t preclude them somehow adapting the base idea.
What if Sony started making an app for their Xperia phones that could be used to give you benefits on your PS4? Bugger me if I know how they’d do it, but with NFC and Bluetooth there’s not much that can’t be done in terms of communication. Walk a certain distance with the phone, level up your character’s agility in-game? I don’t know, I’m not an innovator. Microsoft also have plenty of room for development in the other direction, since they more or less have the market cornered when it comes to PC gaming. What’s to say that the impending link between Windows 10 and the Xbone can’t lead to entire games utilising a Surface in the same way that the Wii U Gamepad does now?
The big question (aside from what exactly the future holds) is whether or not any of this will be worthwhile. Will it actually add anything to the gaming experience? Think back and ask yourself if there’s been any true benefit that any of these features have brought. Outside of a few, exceptional games there has been shockingly little to show that’s worthwhile. Motion control can go to hell, 3D is only just becoming tolerable with the New 3DS (yet still gimmicky), mobile apps are just there to keep you interested and DLC you can buy in figure-form is still just DLC. It might bring something new to the gaming experience, but it doesn’t add to it.
As much as I hate to admit it, the real future of gaming likely lies in the application of virtual reality. But not as it is now. The Oculus Rift, Sony’s Project Morpheus and Microsoft’s HoloLens are just not going to cut it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – they won’t succeed. True VR needs to be able to completely detach you from the world you’re in. Transport you completely to the gaming world. Half-measures won’t be enough to entice anything more than enthusiasts and press, both of whom will tell you that it’s the greatest thing ever before going on to never use the bloody thing again.
It’s like the Uncanny Valley phenomenon with graphics: as you approach true realism, you hit this unavoidable pit of failure that will just put the majority off. VR is unfortunately doomed to being just another gimmick; 3D’s offspring that won’t make it out of its infancy because there’s nothing for it to do. Perhaps we’ll get it right in another 20 years, but for now, the future of gaming is likely going to be more of the same. Better graphics, weirder controllers and more failed gimmicks that we’ll just have to put up with.
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A twenty-something gamer from the North-East of Scotland. By day, I’m a Computer Technician at a local IT recycling charity, where I fix and build PCs. Outside of that, most of my time is spent either sleeping or gaming, which I try accomplish in equal amounts.